Unprecedented global 'ransomware' attack seeks cash for data

Germany's national railway says that it was among the organizations affected by the global cyberattack

Germany's national railway says that it was among the organizations affected by the global cyberattack

A ransomware attack appears to be spreading around the world, leveraging a hacking tool that may have come from the U.S. National Security Agency.

The Russian Interior Ministry confirmed it was among those that fell victim to the "ransomware" - software that locks up a computer and typically flashes a message demanding payment to release the user's data.

Yesterday's global ransomware attack was scary for several reasons, but quick action by a security researcher at MalwareTech at least put an end to its spreading - although the researcher didn't realize it at the time. "The numbers are extremely low and coming down fast".

Consumers who have up-to-date software are protected from this ransomware. The national railway said it was attacked but operations were unaffected.

Europol's European Cybercrime Center said it was working closely with country investigators and private security firms to combat the threat and help victims. In Asia, some hospitals, schools, universities and other institutions were affected, although the full extent of the damage is not yet known because it is the weekend.

"I believe many companies have not yet noticed", said William Saito, a cyber security adviser to Japan's government. "Things could likely emerge on May 15". It initially said 16 NHS organizations had reported being hit, and more reports came in as the day went on.

However, there were infections at individual level, reports our staff correspondent.

"Just think about this for a moment, we were looking into this before I came on air, just about 10 minutes ago, and Sandra actually, my lovely producer here, said to me: "Hang on, this is a bit amusing".

Hospitals turned patients away The most disruptive attacks were reported in Britain, where hospitals and clinics were forced to turn away patients after losing access to computers on May 12.

FedEx: The company said it was "experiencing interference with some of our Windows-based systems caused by malware" and was trying to fix the problems as quickly as possible. "We are implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible".

The largest telecommunications company, Telefonica, was also hit, but the attack reportedly didn't affect any customers. It also said the attack did not specifically target the NHS. "A number of countries and organizations have been affected".

Not to mention the fact that those responsible were able to borrow weaponized software code apparently created by the U.S. National Security Agency to launch the attack in the first place.

"Known as WannaCry or Wanna Decryptor, the so-called ransomware programme homes in on vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows systems", the daily said.

Researchers with Czech Republic-based security software maker Avast said they had observed more than 126,000 ransomware infections, with 60% of infected computers located in Russian Federation, followed by Ukraine and Taiwan.

A hacking group called Shadow Brokers released the malware in April claiming to have discovered the flaw from the NSA, Kaspersky said. Rudd acknowledged Saturday that many NHS trusts still use Windows XP operating systems that are "not a good platform for keeping your data as secure". It had issued a patch on March 14 to protect them from Eternal Blue.

As people fretted over whether to pay the digital ransom or lose data from their computers, experts said the attackers might pocket more than $1 billion worldwide before the deadline ran out to unlock the machines.

Technical staff scrambled on Sunday to patch computers and restore infected ones, amid fears that the ransomware worm that stopped auto factories, hospitals, shops and schools could wreak fresh havoc on Monday when employees log back on. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said all but six of the NHS trusts back to normal Saturday.

However, a hacker could change the code to remove the domain and try the ransomware attack again.

Cyber security experts are calling the hack the biggest attack of its kind ever recorded. The company said the virus has been localized and "technical work is underway to destroy it and update the antivirus protection".

Although cyber extortion cases have been rising for several years, they have to date affected small-to-mid sized organisations, disrupting services provided by hospitals, police departments, public transportation systems and utilities in the United States and Europe.

"Once it gets in and starts moving across the infrastructure, there is no way to stop it", said Adam Meyers, a researcher with cyber security firm CrowdStrike.

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